I thought this tendency would have died after graduating college, but there is a perpetual draw for people to herald and lift up the new. I just saw a post from someone the other day that said, “Worship Jesus in a whole new way this Easter.”
Now I get the desire to make our faith ever fresh and ever new. I get it. I do. But I think we assume that ever fresh and ever new means ever real. That is, we can believe that just because something is different than what we’ve done before it is better. In reality, such drives and pulls are better called novelties.
People are drawn to the novel, but they don’t have the staying power of authentic. To “worship Jesus in a whole new way” does not necessarily mean you are, in fact, worshipping Jesus. Instead, it can mean you are going to the latest sideshow. You are being drawn to the novel. When you accumulate a lot of novel things, it’s called a novelty shop.
As a result, many churches are just that–novelty shops.
Churches are clamoring for more attention and more “influence”, when what they are really doing is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the real needs and longings of the human heart. I don’t know what it is, but as people get deeper and deeper into religion, they try to ramp up their devotion by doing the strange. Knowing their actions are strange, they can dress the strangeness up for “taking risks for the Gospel” or “suffering for the Gospel” when in reality they are just weird.
What people are longing for is not more entertainment (i.e., novelties), there is plenty of it everywhere else! People are longing for the real and the true and lasting. They are longing for meaning in a sea of change and the impermanent.
I believe one of the ways forward in the malaise is to recover the ways of the Church that have had the staying power people are longing for. Too often people interpret doing away with the old as singing a new song with meaning. My contention is that it is when we sing, in unison with our brothers and sisters from the past, we find a depth of beauty and meaning that we didn’t previously have. You get a sense of this when you sing songs you learned as a kid. It’s a different depth of emotion than singing the latest song on the radio. It envelops the whole sensory panel of the person. Try it. Sing a song you learned as a kid right now. Doesn’t it transport you to a different time and place as you repeat it?